The Sahara desert is fast expanding into its adjacent regions to the south. It is this increased desertification coupled with low income and now rising terrorism that forces the locals to escape home to go look for greener pastures, mostly as illegal immigrants to Europe. But now with the Great Green Wall of Africa Initiative, could this be reversed or is it just another ambitious project awaiting an epic fail?
What is the Great Green Wall of Africa project?
The project, which is also called the Great Green Wall of the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative, is an African flagship project conceived in an effort to prevent the Sahara desert from encroaching the Sahel region. The Sahel is a transition zone between the Sahara desert to the north and the equatorial climate to the south and is mainly comprised of grassland vegetation and scattered trees.
The idea of the wall is credited to Richard St. Barbe Baker, an English forester who, in 1952, suggested that if a 50km-wide barrier of trees was planted along the edge of the Sahara, then desertification would be controlled. His idea, however, was not adopted until 2007 when the Great Green Wall of Africa Initiative was born and approved by the African Union.
Following the combined efforts of over eleven countries, a belt of vegetation is expected to be planted from Senegal in the west to Djibouti in the east. For a cost of about $8 billion and spanning over 3360mi (5400km), it will revive the shrinking Sahel, curtail the expansion of the Sahara, and hopefully benefit the locals.
Could the Great Green Wall Have an Impact on Immigration in Europe?
With support from the World Bank, the European Union, international donors, and other development organizations, will the Great Green Wall of Africa really work? Elvis Paul Tangem, the coordinator of the initiative at the African Union Commission, thinks it will not only prevent desertification but also provide employment for the many youths in the area.
“It is one of the biggest push factors for immigration, as I know my home country of Cameroon,” says Tangem. “That is what makes ambitious youth leave. Either you leave or you join the next employer – which is either the traffickers or an extremist group, the leading favorite being Boko Haram.”
The inability to make a living out of these arid and semi-arid regions is what pushes these youth to migrate. Many have risked their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea on boats. Some of those who have failed this mission and were lucky enough to not have drowned in the Mediterranean became trapped in Libya where they were publicly being auctioned as slaves.
Will the Great Green Wall Succeed?
While this enormously ambitious project looks good on paper, its success on the grounds of implementation may require a re-think, otherwise it will flop in broad daylight. This is due to the dynamic political scene coupled with mismatched ambition and effort for the project in various participating countries.
Politics in Africa are yet to mature to the level of democracy. The current kind of leadership in the majority of the Sahel countries, though termed as democratic, is more of autocratic with power resting in the hands of a few individuals. With such power under their control and through underhand ways, they easily swindle every development project to directly benefit them. This has been a major cause of underdevelopment in Africa and unless a change of leadership style occurs, the Great Green Wall may just flop.
A Conflict of Interest
Other than political interference, the project cannot run successfully with the current mismatch of interest in different countries. It appears different countries have different priorities and so the project has only kicked off in some regions while others still lag behind. A report by the Guardian indicated Senegal to be having the best progress while Sudan had only 2000 ha of land restored. The Boko Haram laded regions, such as northern Nigeria and Cameroon, had little progress as well.
Unless the current pace is increased by at least ten times, the project will drag on for decades even up to a century and never come to fruition within expected timelines. But can anything be done? Yes!
The Great Green Wall of Africa must not just be about planting trees as many people may assume. Instead, land reclamation projects that encourage the land to re-green itself should be adopted, especially in less dry areas. In a process referred to as farmer managed natural regeneration, farmers take care of young shoots growing by themselves until maturity. The technique is less costly compared to planting new seedlings but produces equally good results.
But while the project has already kicked off, let’s just say you will just be if it comes to fruition in your lifetime.